Now that you've (hopefully) made your way to the end of Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events, you probably are filled with questions. These questions, on the whole, might be more practical than anything: is there a season two on the way? Who is the real Lemony Snicket? And, of course, what's the deal with those parents? Perhaps your inquiries are a bit more focused, though, which may lead you to one particular hang-up about the orphans' banker, Mr. Poe. Why the hell does he cough so much? We did a little digging and have quite a few interesting theories to share.
1. He Has a Chronic Illness That Traces Back to His Childhood
While the source of Poe's affliction is never directly addressed in the novels, it's mentioned briefly in Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography. One chapter — it aptly has the title "Why Isn't Mr. Poe As Helpful As He Ought To Be?"— features a recorded conversation between Poe and his sister Eleanora (his wife in the show). While at the Anxious Clown restaurant, Eleanore says, "You've had that cough since we were children and it never seems to get better." Now, we could of course take this at face value: maybe it's just a simple cough that he's never been able to shake. But coincidence is not common in the world of Lemony Snicket. Perhaps Poe and his sister knew they were being recorded, and were attempting to deflect suspicion. This leads to one of the more interesting theories behind Poe.
2. He's Involved in the Entire V.F.D. Conspiracy
One popular theory among readers is that Poe was involved in all those fires that seem to rage throughout the novels. There are so many: the Baudelaire fire (of course), the Quagmire fire, the Lucky Smells fire, and even the fire at the Duchess of Winnipeg's mansion. There's a reason why. Basically, this all traces back to V.F.D., the mysterious organization that gets hinted at near the end of season one. It means "Volunteer Fire Department," and its members originally meant to put out fires. A small faction formed within, though: one that starts fires. These evil individuals are responsible for all the fires caused throughout the series.
Many speculate that Poe could have been a member who turned to the bad side. If he was helping to cause all those fires, it would surely be a good explanation for why he coughs so much. Maybe he's evil! And since we learn that the V.F.D recruits children from a young age, it could even explain Eleanora's comment at the Anxious Clown. Or maybe she's in on it too and trying to throw suspicion off Poe. Either way, it's a fun albeit terrible possibility. And it would also explain why Poe never seems to take good care of the children: it's deliberate. On that note, this leads us to our third explanation.
3. It's Actually a Metaphor Related to the Baudelaires
In the event that Mr. Poe is not some evil arsonist (very possible), it's possible his cough is just a way of demonstrating his ineptitude. The fact that Mr. Poe can't take care of his own body is a troubling sign that he's not fit to manage the Baudelaire children or their massive fortune. The cough becomes, in this case, a constant reminder of his negligence.
4. The Cough Is Another Small Reference to Edgar Allan Poe
The final possibility ties in along with all those fun literary references hidden in the show. We know much of Poe's character is an homage to the famous poet, Edgar Allan Poe. There's the name "Poe" obviously, and the fact that his sons are name "Edgar" and "Albert." They even argue over whether they're eating a "raven" or a "crow" at dinner, making an obvious reference to one of Poe's most famous poems: "The Raven." Here's where the cough might come in: Edgar Allen Poe's wife, Virginia Clemm, died from tuberculosis in 1847. And, well, one of the most common symptoms of the illness is a chronic cough, often with blood.
So, there you have it. Like many facets of the tragic series, we likely won't get a concrete answer. Perhaps the wondering and investigating is all part of the fun.